Friday 26 March 2010

Israel Arab Conflict (Post Annapolis)

Three years post Annapolis, the solution remains the same - unilateral disengagement.

In my article of 15 Dec 2007 on Annapolis I concluded:
The leaderships of the two main protagonists of Annapolis are too weak to deliver an agreement; but of the two, it is the fragmentation of the Arab side that will eventually scupper any possible resolution.
So what is left for Israel to do when this year [2007] passes without conclusion? The answer is to be prepared to declare that it would implement withdrawal from the West Bank unilaterally along the lines and spirit of the agreement reached by president Bush and Prime Minister Sharon as embodied in their exchange of letter of 14th April 2004 and take immediate steps to implement them. The majority of Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, will support that move. And so will the electorate if a general election or referendum is called.

With Sharon sadly incapacitated it was left to Ehud Olmert to lead Kadima in a General Election. His Manifesto centred around the Peace Process. He won on that basis and therefore had a mandate, indeed an obligation to do just that. But the Lebanon War, the lack of support from Tsipi Livni and the misguided subsequent Vinograd Commission sapped all his strength. Actions and reactions by politicians and media were taken over by form of words rather than substance of contents. Olmert nevertheless battled bravely to the last minute of his tenure with tenacity and single mindedness. At the end with “et tu Brute” behaviour of Ehud Barak joining the cabal and a legal indictment hanging over his head, he was left with no choice but to leave it to Tsipi Livni to take over. She failed to form a government and led the country into another divisive general election at the end of which she failed yet again to form a government. Livni’s frontal attack on Shas paradoxically gave a golden opportunity to a defunct Likud to revive and lead the extreme Right. Sharon’s Kadima lost its Sharon’s central ground and moved to the Left. And the real victim of all this Byzantine politics was of course the peace process. So another three years passed of paralysis of the leaderships of both sides and the sufferings of their ordinary citizens

What Now?
Since then another war in Gaza; and more bereaved and more orphans on both sides. Israel’s image in the world, unjustifiably and unjustly, has been left tarnished. We are weary, the Arabs are weary and America is exasperated. We lost a big chance handed to us by President Bush and our good friend Condoleezza Rice. And that was when Binyamin Netanyahu took the wrong decision at the time by opposing, indeed sabotaging, instead of embracing Sharons’ policy of unilateral disengagement first from Gaza and then from the un-defendable parts of the West Bank. Sadly for him, and unfortunate for us, Sharon is unable any more to help guide us to see the light which could lead us to the end of a tunnel we have been stuck in since the end of the Six-Day War. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak failed separately in the past to broker peace for us. Would they jointly now achieve a breakthrough? It looks doubtful. However a new hope appears on the horizon: The Mofaz Plan. With politics paralysed as a result of a dysfunctional system of government and with Prime Minister Netanyahu tossed around by a chaotic coalition with a non existent sense of collective responsibility, he is unable to pursue a cohesive policy for peace. He is letting the Israeli media and daily events inside and outside the country buffet him and dictate his moves. Democracy, and certainly representative and participatory democracy, has become a misnomer in Israel. The Knesset is becoming the laughing stock of the Israeli public.

It is at this juncture that MK Shaul Mofaz, an ex Chief of Staff and a former Minister of Defence under Sharon, boldly went public on November 11, 2009 with his Plan. He proposed to move in two phases to a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the immediate establishment of an independent disarmed Palestinian state in the West Bank and in Gaza, preempting a possible move by the Arabs while simultaneously engaging in direct dialogue, State to State, with the Palestinians on the final status issues. He says (and his words are paraphrazed below):
I believe that a permanent Palestinian state with temporary borders and simultaneous negotiations on the core issues: borders, refugees and Jerusalem, will allow us to rebuild the trust between the two sides, and totally change the atmosphere in our region. In this process, we must have the support of the moderate Arab countries, the European countries and the leadership of the United States.
The second phase of my plan would be the implementation of the agreements reached between the two sides on the final status issues.
Before implementing final status agreements, the Palestinians must provide a clear statement about the end to demands and end to the conflict. We have to build a mechanism for potential mediation if gaps still exist between the two sides; and I call for a referendum in Israel to approve what was achieved during the negotiations on the core issues before implementing the second phase. I have full confidence that the moment the Prime Minister of Israel adopts this plan, and the moment the President of the U.S. approves of it as the right direction to move forward, we will be able to achieve an agreement.
And then Mofaz added remarkably that in certain conditions he would talk with Hamas and that if they are elected subsequently by the Palestinians he would have no problem in dealing with them as the legitimate government.

It is important to read his statement and interviews in full. It still needs some modifications and adjustments esprcially with regard to Gaza. But here is a policy and here is a man who can move it forward. This is the voice of Mofaz and the hand of Sharon. We better listen to this Plan coming from a statesman with impeccable credentials, integrity and authority. He reiterated since then that with neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor the Leader of the Opposition, Tsipi Livni, following a clear declared policy he finds himself unable to support either. But he emphasised that he is prepared to support one or other or both if they come up with a clear declared policy. Naturally he favours the general lines of his Plan, but he did not say that they are set in stone.

And turning to the paralysis of the body politics in Israel that is preventing both Government and Opposition to act decisively Mofaz wisely added recently a second proviso for his support. That is a clear, well defined reform of the electoral system that could lead to a stable government and a true representative democracy.

Mofaz did not specify his position on Jerusalem wisely leaving it vague. I believe the problems of Jerusalem are not insurmountable and in this context it is folly to ignore the views of Meir Shetreet and Haim Ramon who both served under Olmert. The Arab villages around Jerusalem were never part of historic Jerusalem notwithstanding their inclusion within the Municipal Borders of the Capital today. Moreover it is important to remember that even Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the Spiritual Mentor of Shas Party might, when the chips are down, opt for sparing Jewish Life over adding Jewish Land when confronted with seeking a painful balance between the two. He expressed such views at the time of the evacuation of Gaza.

And finally in dealing with all this it is important not to get swept overboard by the recent episode of the meeting in the White House of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will prove to be an insignificant passing cloud. Obama is a friend of Israel but he is also the President of the United States and leader of the free world. We err if we try to read into the way that meeting was conducted a sudden change of US policy. There are deep and enduring mutual interests between the two countries which have solid strategic basis. The analysis of the different sides including the US to the Arab Israeli Conflict in my article of 2007 has not altered. Geography and demography don’t change overnight. But it is important that we move swiftly to help reduce tension with our strongest ally and the best way to do that may lie in the Mofaz Plan.

Aharon Nathan, 26th March 2010